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If Sen. Arlen Specter knows something the rest of us don’t concerning the future makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, he wasn’t letting on Monday in a speech to the Philadelphia Bar Association. But the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman implied that he does not expect to see Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor or any other member of the high court announce their resignation by the end of the current term. While not offering up specific insider knowledge, Specter said that in his opinion, rumors of Rehnquist’s imminent retirement are unfounded. Specter, who was awarded the Philadelphia Bar Medal, said he has seen some improvement recently in Rehnquist’s appearance. In January, Rehnquist — who is battling cancer — needed assistance to participate in President Bush’s inauguration ceremony. The five-term senator said that his recent observations of the chief justice have “led me to the conclusion that we’re not about to have a retirement by Chief Justice Rehnquist” in the near future, Specter told members of the Philadelphia Bar Association at its summer quarterly luncheon Monday. Specter — who has also been battling cancer in recent months — noted that a demanding job can be a blessing to those who suffer from potentially life-threatening illnesses. After discussing Rehnquist’s decision, Specter recounted that while he was seated next to O’Connor at a recent event, he thought of the public speculation that she could be named as Rehnquist’s successor as chief should he retire. If she were to become chief justice, she would be the first woman to hold that post.”I couldn’t help wondering if she might be waiting for that event, so it’s a great game of musical chairs,” Specter said. Specter also commented on the battles around judicial confirmations and the filibuster controversy in the Senate. The recent compromise between Democrats and Republicans helped avert outcomes that would have been “a disaster for the country,” Specter said. But, Specter added, “we’re not beyond the issue.” Hinting at the strong possibility of more acrimony to come, Specter said that any future judicial nominee would be subject to “a very, very thorough hearing.” And Specter also spoke up in favor of embryonic stem cell research, calling for the day when “ideology is thwarted and science is liberated.” Specter, a Republican, was introduced by Gov. Edward G. Rendell and Jerome Shestack of Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen — both Democrats, as Shestack observed. While Specter did touch on a range of substantive issues, much of his speech was devoted to humorous anecdotes. He pointed out that Monday’s luncheon was being held in the old PSFS Building, in which he and Eastern District Judge Marvin Katz first had an office for their firm Specter & Katz, which had a strong criminal defense practice. Specter joked that Specter & Katz was the predecessor firm to Kline & Specter, the Philadelphia plaintiffs firm where his son, Shanin, is a name partner. Specter quipped that the main differences between the two involved numbers of member attorneys and sizes of balance sheets. He also said that if faced with the choice of being remembered either for helping to secure the confirmation of a strong federal judiciary for Pennsylvania and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, or as being the main author of the “single-bullet theory” in the investigation of President Kennedy’s assassination, he’d choose the former. But Specter addressed serious subjects, as well. He spoke of the possibility of a million-person march on the nation’s capital to call attention to the need for stem cell research. “Let me tell you something about the lay of the land in Washington — with a million people on the Mall, you can hear it in the White House,” he said. Elliot Mincberg, vice president of People for the American Way in Washington, D.C., said Momday’s comments in Philadelphia didn’t mark the first time Specter has appeared to play down rumors that retirement by Rehnquist is coming soon. “It’s sounding like Specter is tamping down some of the rife speculation and suggesting it’s quite possible, at least, that there will be no vacancies,” Mincberg said. Because it’s traditional for justices to resign on the last day of the court’s term — which this year should take place sometime next week — each year as spring turns to summer, people tend to wonder whether there will be a vacancy that the Senate judiciary committee will need to fill by the time high court reconvenes in the fall, according to Mincberg. Recently, he said, many of the retirement rumors have involved O’Connor, who is 75 and a breast cancer survivor, but most have focused on Rehnquist, who turns 81 this fall and is currently battling thyroid cancer. But despite the dismissive tone Specter has struck in public of late, word on Capitol Hill is that the chairman’s recent comments haven’t stopped judiciary committee staffers from gearing up for battle in the event of a high court vacancy, he said. “The sense I have is that people on his staff are preparing [for vacancy hearings] anyway,” Mincberg said. “I’m not getting any impression that people on the Senate judiciary committee staff are planning a vacation anytime soon.”

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